#33: Spirited Away (2001)

When and how did I watch this?

March 29th, 2017, on a random site.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Here it is, the big Miyazaki animated film.  His work thus far has ranged from the bizarre to the heart-wrenching, and they’ve always explored the limits of fantasy blending with reality.  I’d been waiting for this one since beginning the list.

What do I know about it now?

As if it were possible to exceed the oddities of his prior films, Miyazaki manages to construct an entire otherworld within the confines of a bath house and creates shapeshifting protagonists and antagonists — though this line is blurred often — with a full arsenal of emotions.  We empathize with the reluctant Chihiro from the outset as soon as her overly adventurous parents become gluttonous pigs; she bears above-average awareness, yet she remains hesitant and naive. Enter Haku, a mysterious boy who takes Chihiro by the hand and vows to help her get her parents back and return to her own world.  The characters they encounter along the way vary dramatically: a witch with an oversized head, a grizzled yet efficient spider-man who works the boiler room, a stink-monster, a mysterious and seemingly shy character named No-Face, and a horde of anthropomorphic frogs who all suspect something is strange about Chihiro (renamed Sen). The story itself is somewhat non-linear and would require a thorough explanation — and an equally thorough rewatch — to properly summarize. In short, Sen/Chihiro wins the hearts of the spirit world, falls in love with a boy, and gets her parents back, who are unaware of all that occurred.  The film is essentially a coming-of-age story, but also a vehicle for Miyazaki to fully illustrate his imaginative prowess.

What are some themes in the film?

Pride, gluttony, love, discrimination, forgiveness, greed

Did this affect me personally?

Spirited Away is one huge beautiful canvas. It’s hard not to be affected or captivated.

Why is this ranked #33?

Miyazaki films dominate the top grossing films in Japan.  Spirited Away is the front runner, and it’s not really close. The film has all of the magic you would expect, with fascinating characters and wide themes.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She was busy playing a game, I believe.

Would I watch it again?

Yes! The film has universal appeal, but another viewing would help with some cultural nuances that may have gone over my head the first time.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

This is Miyazaki’s crowning achievement, and is required viewing for any fan of animated films, as well as anyone who has a set of eyes and an appreciation of art.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

There isn’t much left to say here without being redundant. I was first introduced to Miyazaki with Castle In the Sky, a film not unlike Avatar, a treatise on humanity’s need for harmonization with nature. This is a reverberating “message” in most of the films on the IMDb Top 250, but Spirited Away addresses important themes without coming across preachy. It’s simply a masterful animation, and the highest ranked in its genre on the list.

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